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Brussels, 28 May 2004

Employment, Social Affairs, Health and Consumer Protection Council, Luxembourg, 1 and 2 June 2004

The Employment, Social Affairs, Health and Consumer Protection Council will take place on 1 and 2 June in Luxembourg. The meeting will be chaired by Minister Frank Fahey (Employment), Minister Mary Coughlan (Social Affairs), Minister Willie O’Dea (Equal opportunities), and Minister Martin (Health). The Commission will be represented by Commissioner Dimas (Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities) and Commission Byrne (Health). The following points are on the agenda:

Employment and Social Affairs

Employment Package 2004 (Employment Guidelines and Recommendations to Member States) (AM)

Following a proposal from the Commission (see IP/04/467) and the adoption by the EP of its opinion, the Council is expected reach a political agreement on the new Employment Guidelines. The most important element of this dossier is the new, harder-hitting and more focused Employment Recommendations, taking onboard the outcome of the Employment Task Force chaired by Mr Wim Kok.

Proposal for a Council Directive implementing the principle of equal treatment between men and women in the access to and supply of goods and services (AM)

The Council will have a first policy debate among Ministers on the issues relating to this proposal from the Commission (see IP/03/1501 and MEMO/03/216), in particular regarding the question of the use of sex as a factor in pricing and setting benefits for private pension and insurance products. No decision is expected.

Creation of a European Gender Institute (AM)

Over lunch, Ministers will discuss the suggested creation of a European Gender Institute. No formal decision will be taken. The idea of such an Institute was included in the Social Policy Agenda adopted at Nice in December 2000 and is supported by the European Parliament. The Commission carried out a feasibility study in 2002 to assess the need for the creation of such an institute, its aims, and possible structure.

Miscellaneous Amendments to Regulation 1408/71 (AM)

The Council is expected to reach political agreement on this text to revise two annexes of the regulation governing the co-ordination of social security systems. The annexes in question relate to bilateral agreements and benefits which are not exportable to another Member State. The purpose of the Regulation is to assist mobility

Council Decision establishing the Social Protection Committee (AM)

This Decision recognises the change of legal base for the Committee with the entry into force of the Nice Treaty. It introduces for the first time consultation of social partners and social NGOs.

Public Health

Promoting heart health (TM)

Ministers will hold a public debate on promoting heart health in Europe. Heart disease and other cardiovascular problems are the biggest killers in the EU. Approximately half of all Europeans die from these diseases. Ministers are likely to adopt conclusions establishing a European initiative on best practices in the prevention of cardiovascular diseases. This initiative will support and co-ordinate national policies in this field and build on work being undertaken by the EU’s Public Health Programme. Council’s conclusions will draw on recommendations made at the Cardiovascular Health Conference hosted by the Presidency in Cork on 17-19 February as well as the work done on Healthy Lifestyles under the Italian Presidency.

E-health (TM/PS)

Ministers will hold a further public debate on e-Health. The Commission will present its action plan for a European e-Health Area (see: IP/04/508) and ministers are expected to adopt conclusions inviting Member States to further develop and implement e-Health as part of national public health strategies. The conclusions would draw on the results of the Presidency’s e-Health Conference held in Cork on 5-6 May. The “e-Health action plan” covers everything from electronic prescriptions and computerised health records to using new systems and services to cut waiting times and reduce errors. e-Health spending within national health budgets is estimated to rise to around 5% by the end of the decade from 1-2% today, and the emerging “e-Health industry” has a turnover of €11 billion. The implementation of the action plan should contribute to better care at the same or lower cost.

Influenza pandemic preparedness and response planning (TM)

In March the Commission adopted a paper outlining how the EU and its Member States could work together to counter an influenza pandemic (see IP/04/432). Ministers will consider the Commission’s paper and are expected to adopt conclusions calling for the Health Security Committee – established in 2001 to coordinate EU preparedness against bio-terrorism – to take forward EU level actions on influenza pandemic preparedness between now and the end of May 2005. The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (see IP/04/427), which is due to open its doors in May next year, would then take over this responsibility. Seasonal outbreaks of influenza occur every year in Europe but public health experts have warned that a new pandemic may be imminent and could present a major health threat.

Patient mobility and sustainable healthcare (TM / AM)

Ministers are expected to adopt conclusions broadly supporting the approach to patient mobility set out in the Commission’s recent Communication on this subject (see IP/04/508) and welcoming the Commission’s decision to set up a High Level Group on Health Services and Medical Care. Ministers will continue their discussions on EU level cooperation on healthcare policy over lunch.

The lunchtime debate will focus on how to ensure healthcare remains financially sustainable and accessible to all citizens as Member States modernise their social security systems. While responsibility for healthcare rests with Member States, there are a number of common challenges facing EU countries, such as the ageing society, increased needs and demands from citizens and rapid technological change. (See IP/04/508)

International health regulations (TM)

The Commission will brief ministers on the progress of negotiations in the World Health Organisation (WHO) on the revision of the International Health Regulations (IHR), the WHO’s system of international cooperation on the control of infectious diseases and other health threats. The Commission has been conducting these negotiations on behalf of the EU and its Member States since December 2003 (see IP/03/1282). The current revision of the IHR is aimed at extending the WHO’s system of international cooperation to cover all major public health events of international concern: for example, natural disease outbreaks and deliberate release of chemical or biological pathogens (bio-terrorism), and food safety threats.

Alcohol harm reduction among young people(TM)

Ministers are expected to adopt conclusions on alcohol harm reduction among young people reflecting the results of their discussions on this subject at the informal ministerial meeting in Cork 12 May 2004. The conclusions would follow-up on the conclusions Council adopted in June 2001 on reducing alcohol related harm and its Recommendation, also of June 2001, on alcohol and young people. The Commission is preparing a proposal for a comprehensive EU strategy on alcohol and health which it plans to present in 2005 after consulting stakeholders and Member States during the course of 2004. The Commission is also producing a report looking at how Member States have implemented the 2001 Council Recommendation on alcohol and young people.

Childhood asthma (TM)

The Council is expected to adopt conclusions inviting the Commission to ensure that childhood asthma is taken into account in all relevant Community policies and inviting Member States to adopt a multi-disciplinary approach to this issue. Ministers are also likely to call for further research on the causes of childhood asthma and to emphasise for work on asthma to be undertaken in the context of the Children’s Environment and Health Action Plan for Europe (CEHAPE). CEHAPE is due to be finalised at the pan-European Ministerial Conference on Environment and Health, which is being held in Budapest in on 23-25 June.

Health and nutrition claims made on food (TM)

Demand for EU legislation on nutrition and health claims has come from right across the spectrum of interested parties – industry, retailers and, most importantly, consumers. In July 2003 the Commission presented a proposal for an EU law which would provide a consistent and rational approach to dealing with such claims (see IP/03/1022). Consumers would be protected from misleading or unsubstantiated claims, while food companies with legitimate claims to make could use them throughout the EU. The outgoing European Parliament did not finalise its first reading opinion on this draft law and the Council could therefore not yet adopt a common position. Nonetheless, a working group of Member State civil servants has continued its examination of the proposed legislation under the Irish Presidency. Ministers will hear a report on the progress made in this working group.

Addition of minerals and vitamins to food (TM)

This proposed EU law, presented by the Commission in November 2003 (see IP/03/1516), aims to set detailed rules on the addition of vitamins and minerals to food. A list of approved vitamins and minerals would be defined and minimum and maximum levels for adding them set on the basis of scientific advice. Labelling would show consumers which nutrients have been added to each product. The outgoing European Parliament did not finalise a first reading opinion on this draft law. Nonetheless, a working group of Member State civil servants has been examining the proposed legislation under the Irish Presidency. Ministers will hear a report on the progress made in this working group.

Any other business

Commission White Paper on Services/Proposal for a Directive on Services

The Commission will present its recent White Paper and the Presidency will report on the progress of the proposed Directive on Services in the Competitiveness Council.

Optical Radiation

The Presidency will present progress made in reviving discussion within the Council of the Commission’s 1993 proposal on the protection of workers from optical radiation (for example emitting from lasers or welding arcs)

Social Dimension of Globalisation

The Commission will present its recent Communication on this subject (see IP/04/680)

Recasting of gender equality directives

The Commission will present its proposal for a recasting of existing directives relating to gender equality.

Health Insurance Card

1 June 2004 marks the introduction of the European Health Insurance Card (see MEMO/04/75). Although there is no formal discussion scheduled, the Commission and Presidency will want to note this important development. 13 Member States (MS) are due to implement the card from 1 June and the rest of the MS will follow suit over the next 18 months. Until the end of 2005, cards and current paper forms will be used and recognised within the EU. The card will have an immediate and direct impact on the daily life of citizens who are moving on a temporary basis within the European Union both for personal and professional reasons (students, job seekers, tourists, etc).

Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC)

Following the favourable opinion delivered by the European Parliament in April, the Council is expected to formally adopt a decision ratifying the WHO’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. The EU played a leading role in negotiating the FCTC and was among the first to sign it (see IP/03/847). This global health treaty includes international rules on smoking prevention and treatment, advertising and promotion, labelling, illicit trade, taxation and product regulation.

European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC)

The Commission will brief ministers on preparatory work currently underway on creating the ECD (see IP/04/427) which is due to start work in Stockholm in May 2005.

European Health Strategy

The Commission will present ministers with some initial views on the future direction of EU health policy. The Commission is in the process of developing a major policy document on EU health strategy.

Environment and Health

The Commission will report on the preparation of its Action Plan, which it intends to adopt later this month and on preparations for the pan-European Ministerial Conference on Environment and Health which is being held in Budapest on 23-25 June.

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